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Hungry Ghostby Keith Kachtick
Synopses & Reviews
Greta is naked again. A blue-eyed, thirty-one-year-old sous chef from Berlin, goat-beard wisps of blond hair beneath her arms, she drops her black bikini top and diaphanous, wine-colored sarong onto her towel, strides across the damp sand, and dives into the breakers. Sitting up straight, you gape at the slope of Greta's breasts and run the back of your wrist across your mouth. Until she disrobed, you'd been lying flat against a dry dune near the Sendero cabañ as, a short Frisbee toss from Greta's towel, presumably undetected in the shadows of the deserted cove, hands clasped behind your head, your attention directed chiefly towards the cloudless blue sky and a lone schooner bobbing in the calm, gold-flecked Pacific waters a few hundred yards offshore.
Over the last three days you've come to think of this long-legged German woman in specific physical terms, individual pieces of an exotic, big-boned puzzle. Greta is taller than average, heavier than average, ample but in an understated, competitive-sculler sort of way. A pre-Raphaelite mop of sandy blond hair. Broad shoulders. Muscular calves. Collarbones you could rope a horse to. A drowsy, full-souled smile. (Last night, drinking cuba libres and playing chess by the driftwood campfire, as Greta forked your queen with that deliciously slow grin of hers, you thought how perfect is the Spanish word for smile: Sonrisa. Sunrise.) You can't get enough of her smoky German accent. At times she works so hard at finding the correct word in English, her wide, Old World face scrunched from the effort, that you want to take her hand. But you haven't — not once. And thus far you've managed to stay out of her cabañ a,too.
Today is the final day of your three-day shoot. All of your photo gear has been repacked in the brushed-silver Anvils in preparation for tomorrow morning's departure. Less fruitful than it might have been (you exposed only nineteen rolls of film out of the fifty you brought), this unexpected "adventure travel" assignment in southern Mexico will nonetheless pay much of the balance due on your new $2,900 Minolta laser printer and last month's $1,800 rent on your East Village apartment. Despite the half-hearted professional effort, you're in no hurry to leave — the warm winter weather has proven intoxicating. For three days you've remained barefoot, worn the same pair of oversized Abercrombie & Fitch canvas cargo shorts, stayed either high or within arm's reach of a frosty Negra Modelo, and been surrounded by comely beachcombers wearing little more than coconut oil and toe-rings. Your arrival here back on Tuesday now seems like someone else's dream: New York to Mexico City to Oaxaca on increasingly smaller planes, five hours by rickety bus along the winding mountain roads of the Sierra Madres to the fishing village of Puerto Escondido, hitchhiking to San Augustinillo and then crossing by foot the beachfront dunes that lead, ultimately, to this hedonistic Pacific-coast sanctuary.
Zipolite is located on the tip of the country's southernmost peninsula, about as far from the United States as one can get and still be in Mexico. "A hidden, bohemian paradise with unpaved roads and dreadlocked shopkeepers, shaded by palm trees and palapas and thatched-roof bungalows, Zipolite is an international rainbow of Lonely Planet travelers, Amsterdam meets the Garden of Eden, a tropically exoticand decidedly Dionysian love song." This is the first line of the 2,700-word article penned by a "Details writer named Sandy Tesoros (who you correctly assume is a woman), which you were hired and sent to Mexico to illustrate with your photographs. The sentence, you feel, is an apt description for how you've come to regard this place — and for the quality you attempted to capture with your cameras. There are no ringing phones or buzzing alarm clocks in Zipolite, no sunburned tourists camcording the pelicans. Here there are tattooed chests and pierced belly buttons, long moonstruck nights of reggae and mescal on the beach. Here all of life seems tribal.
For three days you munched watermelon and papaya and mango for breakfast, and at night, by votive candle under the thirty-foot-high thatched roof of La Chosa — the open-air restaurant so close to the ocean you could feel its salty spray on your cheeks — savored seared red snapper topped with prawns the size of lobsters. You meditated each morning, hidden behind dunes taller than your outstretched arms. You spotted a stray dog with his ears dyed purple (trying to get him to sit still for a shot, you pined for Marley, your camera-friendly Rasta-mutt extraordinaire, who at this very moment is gnawing on Mrs. Pierno's winter galoshes back in Manhattan). You exposed an entire roll of film on a young Mexican girl selling fillets of iguana from a bucket balanced atop her head. You slept dreamlessly in your own palm tree shrouded Sendero cabañ a, 100 pesos a night (roughly $12), monastic and seductive with its whitewashed walls, slow-turning ceiling fan, gauzy mosquito net, and pine-planked porch from which you flung sand dollarsinto the ocean. You built a bonfire with a South African motorcyclist awaiting, without complaint, the arrival of a brake-pad for his Ducati for six months now. You discovered the sound a palm tree makes before dropping a coconut.
For three days you wandered from one end of Zipolite's half-mile beach to the other, blissfully stoned, photographing with either your new Mamiya M645 or your rugged little Canon Elan, discreetly and usually with permission, the occasional semi-naked woman lying on the dunes. You discovered that among the semi-naked women you photographed were a Honduran dive-master, a Franco-Czech painter with a name you couldn't pronounce, a journalist from Wales covering the Zapatista rebels in the neighboring state of Chiapas, and Greta, a dripping-wet sous chef from Berlin ...
Carter Cox is a talented but dissipated freelance photojournalist living in New York City's East Village with his sad dog and bad habits. Though he travels to exotic places taking pictures of models and celebrities, he yearns to do more meaningful work and to mend his womanizing ways. He also wants to put into practice the lessons he learns from his Buddhist betters, but he continues to carry with him his “seduction kit”: a chessboard, cigarettes, and a Cormac McCarthy novel.
At a Buddhist retreat, he meets Mia Malone, a beautiful, smart devout Catholic determined to remain a virgin until she is married. Carter falls hard, and Mia nervously agrees to join him on a photo shoot in Morocco. With both of their souls hanging in the balance, they quickly go from the ocean to hot water: crashing their car, getting arrested, running afoul of a sadistic gendarme, and trying to flee the country. Over the course of their adventure, they discover that karma and the human heart work in very mysterious ways.
About the Author
Keith Kachtick grew up in Texas, attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and now lives in New York City. His writing has appeared in a number of publications, including Esquire, Texas Monthly, the Missouri Review, and the New York Times Magazine. He is senior instructor of the Lineage Project, a nonprofit, Dharma-based organization that runs meditation classes in youth prisons in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
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